The 6 hottest learning trends for 2018 – Part 6: Podcasting

A couple of months ago we shared an interesting article on the 6 hottest learning trends for 2018. In our blog post of April 11 we looked at augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR); and then we talked about artificial intelligence (AI) on April 17, app-based learning on May 8, microlearning on May 16, and video on May 24. Today we present the final instalment in our series: podcasting. If you liked this roundup of 2018's learning trends or want to share how they fit into your training, be sure to post a comment below.

Why podcasting?

For the time-strapped multi-tasker trying to shoehorn learning into a workday without sacrificing productivity, podcasts are a logical fit. Why? Because frequently learners find themselves with time that isn’t as productive as it could be—maybe they’re driving the 60-minute commute to work, taking a lunch-time power walk or cooking dinner for three kids or an unexpected friend visit after working a nine-hour day. For many of us, these patches of time are frustrating. We should be able to leverage them, and we can—by using our ears while we do other chores.

If that sounds like extra work, it doesn’t have to be. Podcasts can be entertaining and relaxing while still filling our heads with information. Listening to podcasts can be highly productive, especially for auditory learners, and if a podcast is scripted with visually evocative imagery or tactile references, it can be just as effective for visual and kinesthetic learners too. So, even though its chief appeal is that it delivers content through just one sense, freeing up the others for other activities, it can still engage those other senses if it’s done well.

Podcasting also reflects a new way of looking at how learning is delivered. Increasingly, people are demanding downloadable content that they can digest at their own pace, whenever they want and wherever they are. This is what makes microlearning and app-based learning so appropriate for our times. The difference is that microlearning and app-based learning are potentially more active ways of learning, while podcasting allows the learner to absorb knowledge more passively. This makes it perfect as a supplement to more formalized elearning modules or microbursts—it can help make learning stick.

Why podcasts are the next big thing

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  • Production is easier. Creating video is time-consuming because you need to storyboard and edit video and audio. Audio-only podcasting means less planning, fewer editing hours and lower production costs. And with simple audio editing tools, updates are easier too.
  • Less bandwidth. While some people may be reluctant to download a video, they may be willing to download audio because it takes less space on a mobile device. 
  • Receptive audience. According to Nielsen, the number of “avid” podcast fans increased by 19% between 2016 and 2017, a rise driven mostly by smartphone use. Learners need little convincing to tune into a podcast!
  • They can follow the same instructional design logic as other platforms. Just like elearning modules, instructional podcasts can incorporate sound design principles, with formally designed goals and objectives, definitions and organizational flow.
  • They’re entertaining. Never before has entertainment been so plentiful, and podcasts are a boon to anyone with a long commute, extended waits between appointments, or any other “dead” time. For those who feel guilty about not finding productive ways to use that time, podcasts are a great solution.
  • They’re really just another form of mobile learning. Podcasts can be played on any device that plays digital audio files, portable or stationary. For most people that’s a smartphone (over three-quarters of North Americans own one).
  • SMEs and interview subjects might be camera-shy. For many people, appearing on camera is a big deal. Some aren’t comfortable, and some just plain avoid doing it. Audio is often much less intimidating. A good interviewer can put an expert at ease, ask relevant questions and capture content that can be edited into an instructional podcast.
  • Podcast listenership skews young. There’s a lot of hand-wringing out there about how to engage millennials. One of the best ways is to meet them where they are—in the world of podcasts. More 18- to 34-year-olds listen regularly to podcasts than any other age group.
  • You can establish a training archive. Podcasts can be tagged and stored on a searchable site, so employees can find them easily.
  • You can collect metrics. Podcast data is easy to track—who’s listening, at what times, how often, and for how long—and can help you gauge the effectiveness and course-correct if necessary.
  • Integration. Podcast links can be embedded into your LMS (learning management system).

What kinds of podcasts can you make?

  • Lectures by instructors, subject matter experts and industry experts can be recorded and then released in their entirety or as shorter modules. The same can be done with interviews.
  • Q&A or FAQ sessions can be recorded to respond to questions sent in by listeners or that may be anticipated by the course designer/instructor.
  • Orientations (e.g., for new hires) or upskilling (e.g., soft skills training) can be delivered via podcast.

What should you keep in mind when making a podcast?

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  • Audio quality should be as high as possible. Record your podcast in a quiet room and minimize interruptions. Mute your phone and turn off any electronics that might beep or chirp. Make sure you and any interviewees are close enough to the microphone (these days, often a smartphone mic). Do a couple of playback tests before you start recording in earnest.
  • Have a plan. It’s tempting to wing it, but your podcast will be more credible and easier to listen to if you loosely script what you’ll be talking about. That’s not always possible when you’re doing interviews, but you can at least follow an agenda. This serves you in several ways—it keeps you on track, it reminds you what you’re talking about if you forget, and it helps you mind the time.
  • Know your material. Unless you’re accustomed to delivering public talks, you might find it difficult to speak off the top of your head about your subject, even if you know it very well. Not knowing your material well is a recipe for awkward pauses (and lots of editing later).
  • Structure your material. At the outset, say what you’ll be talking about and what the listener can expect. If you’re introducing a new topic, provide a backgrounder; don’t assume your listeners are already caught up on the subject. If your podcast is part of a series, situate it for the listener—is it third of five or sixth of nine? Do a brief recap of what you talked about last time, especially if the learning is modular or cumulative, and if there are any references or takeaways, let the listener know where to find and download them.
  • Remember your audience can’t see you. Make an effort to use visual descriptions—paint a picture so you make the learning more memorable. And if something important happens that the listener can’t see, describe it. For instance, you may ask your interviewee a question, only to have them shrug or gesture instead of answering verbally. You’ll have to find a way to make that visual for your listener.
  • Keep it moving. Again, because your audience can’t see you, you need to keep the conversational ball in the air so they don’t think the podcast has ended abruptly or been cut off. This can be tricky if you’re interviewing someone who’s not very talkative, so just try to be aware of any long pauses. It may be easier to avoid them than edit them out.
  • Make your podcast searchable by adding metadata—tags you embed in the podcast data in an ID3 format. Several ID3 tag editors are available, including the free downloads MP3tag and EasyTAG.
  • Q/A your podcast before posting. Make sure you listen to it from beginning to end to make sure the recording doesn’t contain any odd noises, dead spots, or otherwise weird distractions. If you do find unwanted noises, be sure to edit them out.

What kinds of podcast tools should I use?

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  • Adobe Audition is part of the Creative Cloud suite. If you already have a subscription to the full suite, you have access to it. You can also get it for $20.99USD/month separately. It’s designed for podcast production and editing and has advanced tools such as noise-reduction capabilities, advanced compression, EQ, etc.
  • Anchor allows you to make a podcast from your phone (iOS or Android). Just record your audio, press the “Episode” button and this free service takes care of the rest, including distribution to Apple Podcasts and Google Play.
  • Buzzsprout offers free and paid podcasting plans and features a plug-in so you can host your podcast on your website.
  • GarageBand for Mac is a powerful app you can use to record, mix and edit your podcasts and finesse it with professional effects. While it’s primarily designed for recording music, it has everything you need to create a podcast with finesse.
  • Podbean offers a range of plans starting at $3USD/month. All plans feature embeddable players, function with both iPhone and Android, and provide hosting.
  • Ardour helps you with the acoustic side of podcast production—recording, editing and mixing.
  • And many more! Check out this list of 15 free podcasting tools from eLearning Industry.

Is podcasting here to stay?

Podcasting in elearning is an evolving practice, and in evaluation terms these are early days. Docebo refers to “the multiplication of learning opportunities”—a key success strategy in today’s marketplace. There’s an intimacy to podcasting that allows you to break through barriers to learners—you’re in their ear while they’re doing exercise, mundane chores, even showering. There’s an opportunity to build trust with learners. Best practices in podcasting are still emerging, so stay tuned!

Have you used podcasting to deliver learning? Comment below to tell us how it’s going!

We hope you enjoyed our series on the 6 hottest learning trends for 2018. Let us know if there are any topics you'd like us to cover in the future!